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MS and EU inch towards agreement

Still a few bumps to iron out

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Microsoft appears to have gone some way towards avoiding a daily fine of $5m, by agreeing to release information on the inner workings of its operating systems on a royalty-free basis. The European Competition Commission has said it is happy with some of Microsoft's proposals, but will still push for the company to open its protocols to open source developers.

The original ruling that Microsoft had abused its market position, back in March 2004, required the software giant to disclose complete and accurate interface documentation which would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers.

In its first attempt to comply with the ruling Microsoft imposed some fairly tough conditions on access to the information. The Commission regarded these as unreasonable and discriminatory.

The company has now made a number of changes to its conditions, including allowing competitors to develop and sell interoperable products on a global basis, and making some information available for free.

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer said that his company has made some "tough concessions", adding that the company takes its responsibilities in Europe "very seriously"..

"I am happy that Microsoft has recognised certain principles which must underlie its implementation of the Commission’s Decision," Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement. "I remain determined to ensure that all elements of the Decision are properly implemented. This includes the ability for developers of open source software to take advantage of the remedy."

This last element is still to be tested in the European Court of First Instance in Luxemborg, where Microsoft is currently appealing the ruling.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel said that the company wants to balance openness with the need to protect its intellectual property. "While we have not reached agreement with the Commission on whether open source developers can go even farther and publish the source code that implements our technology, we are comfortable turning to the courts for guidance on this issue."

The Commision says that if the ruling goes in its favour, it is confident that open source licenses will be possible for information that is no "innovative". A decision on what constitutes "innovative" in this context will be made by a yet-to-be-appointed Trustee, which will provide technical help to the Commission in making sure Microsoft complies with the rulings.

The Commission says it will now put Microsoft's proposals to the industry, to evaluate them in full.®

Related stories

Microsoft keeps mum on EC deal
EU to decide on Microsoft fine in July
Gates' Microsoft down to the wire for EU compliance

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